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Effect of swearing on strength: Disinhibition as a potential mediator

Atkins, K; Stephens, R; Dowber, H; Barrie, A; Almeida, S


K Atkins

H Dowber

A Barrie

S Almeida


<p>Introduction: Swearing fulfils positive functions including benefitting pain relief and physical strength. Here we present three experiments assessing a possible psychological mechanism, increased state disinhibition, for the effect of swearing on physical strength. Method: Three repeated measures experiments were carried out with sample sizes N=56, N=63 and N=118. All three included the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) to measure risky behaviour. Experiments 1 and 3 included measures of physical performance assessing, respectively, grip and arm strength. Experiment 3, which was pre-registered, additionally assessed flow, self-confidence, anxiety, emotion including humour, and distraction including novelty.Results: Experiments 1 and 3 found that repeating a swear word benefitted physical strength and increased risky behaviour, but risky behaviour did not mediate the strength effect. Experiment 2 showed no effect of listening to an audio track of a repeated swear word. Experiment 3 found that repeating a swear word increased flow, self-confidence, positive emotion, humour and distraction. Humour mediated the effect of swearing on physical strength. Discussion: Consistent effects of swearing on physical strength indicate that this is a reliable effect. Swearing affected several constructs related to state disinhibition including increased self-confidence. Humour appeared to mediate the effect of swearing on physical strength, consistent with a hot cognitions explanation of swearing-induced state disinhibition. However, as this mediation effect was part of an exploratory analysis, further pre-registered experimental research including validated measures of humour is required.</p>


Atkins, K., Stephens, R., Dowber, H., Barrie, A., & Almeida, S. (2022). Effect of swearing on strength: Disinhibition as a potential mediator. PsyArXiv,

Acceptance Date Feb 7, 2022
Publication Date Mar 23, 2022
Journal PsyArXiv
Publisher Cornell University
Publisher URL


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